The Men of Fortune from History

There are many stories about men of fortune and what they do with their winnings.

This could be a story about early gold rush pioneers or modern day internet billionaires. Even migrants who send or bring back their hard earned money home can be classified as men of fortune. Originally, the term of ‘men of fortune’ was used for Pirates from many centuries ago who managed to convert their plunder into real life assets. With this blog post I want to explore and allow the reader to understand that the current ethos of entrepreneurship does not differ that much from stories of fortune seekers from a by gone era.

As Samuel Johnson said to James Boswell: ‘A man had better have ten thousand pounds at the end of ten years passed in England, than twenty thousand pounds at the end of ten years passed in India, because you must compute what you give for money; and a man who has lived ten years in India, has given up ten years of social comfort and all those advantages which arise from living in England.’

Nevertheless, a new word was about to enter the English language: the ‘nabob’, a corruption of the Indian princely title of nawab. The nabobs were men like Pitt, Clive and Hastings, who brought their Indian fortunes back home and converted them into imposing stately homes like Pitt’s at Swallowfield, Clive’s at Claremont or Hastings’s at Daylesford. Nor did they confine themselves to buying real estate. It was with money he had made in India that Thomas Pitt bought Parliamentary seat of Old Sarum, that notorious ‘rotten borough’ which his more famous grandson later represented in the House of Commons. It was magnificent hypocrisy on William Pitt’s part when he complained in January 1770:

The riches of Asia have been poured in upon us, and brought with them not only Asiatic luxury, but, I fear, Asiatic principles of government … The importers of foreign gold have forced their way into Parliament, by such a torrent of private corruption, as no private hereditary fortune could resist.

The East India Company existed not for the sake of scholarship or miscegenation but to make money. Warren Hastings who became the Governer General of East India Company in 1772 and his contemporaries became very rich men. They did so despite the fact that the key market for their core product, Indian textiles, was being restricted by various protectionist measures designed to stimulate British manufacturers. And no matter how devoted they might be to Indian culture, their aim was always to transfer their profits back home to Britain.


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